Chuang Tzu on Craftsmanship

Woodworker Qing made elaborately carved wooden bell stands.

When others saw the completed bell stands, they were startled and thought they must have been created by supernatural beings.

The Marquis of Lu saw one of them and asked: “What special art (artistic skill) do you have to be able to do this?”

He replied, “Your humble servant is merely an artisan. What special artistic ability could I have?

However, I do use one system.

forest retreatWhen I’m about to create a bell stand, I’m careful not to expend too much of my vital energy, so I have to first settle my mind and heart in calmness.

For three days I prepare myself by giving up on any ideas of praise or rewards for my work.

The next five days I prepare by not being concerned whether my work will be criticized or considered to be not perfect enough.

Then for seven days I prepare myself by forgetting about the prescribed shapes of things including the shape of my own body. By that time I’ve lost all consideration as to what the royal court would demand of me, concentrate completely on my task, and outside influences just disappear.

Then I enter the mountain forests and observe the naturalness of the heavens. By seeing that all the shapes around me are complete of themselves, I can envision a completed bell stand. At that point I can actually start working with my hands, but not until then.

It’s because I use the heavens to fit perfectly with the heavens that some suspect my tools were used by spirits. That’s all there is to it!”

-Chuang Tzu

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